In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado’s account of a relationship gone bad, and a dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming.
What could seem gimmicky—I confess I braced myself at first—quickly feels like the only natural way to tell the story of a couple. What relationship exists in purely one genre? What life? ... a hive of frenetic experimentation, tactics and tricks ... There is something anxious, and very intriguing, in the degree of experimentation in this memoir, in its elaborately titivated sentences, its thicket of citations. The flurry—the excess—feels deliberate, and summons up the image of the writer holding a ring of keys, trying each of them in turn to unlock a resistant story, to open a door she might be hesitant to enter ... written into the silence surrounding violence in queer relationships, the silences around emotional and psychological abuse ... a living archive of her own loving, idiosyncratic design.
... a wildly propulsive memoir, an ambulatory survey of the genre ... It’s easy for writers to prioritize the mind and forget about the body, with its cracks and chronic thrum; but Machado’s work is an aide-mémoire for corporeality ... Her memoir, like the dream house, is lived-in.
This review would be easier to write if Carmen Maria Machado weren’t so good ... Machado’s meta-intrusions disrupt and enrich in ways that hark to Jorge Luis Borges ... Sound complicated? Perhaps. But In the Dream House is a page turner of psychological suspense ... a literary treasure.